Brain Facts

Brain Facts

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Epilepsy and world leaders

Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia about 2,300 years ago and one of the greatest generals in history, had epilepsy. At the time epilepsy was known as "the sacred disease" because of the belief that those who had seizures were possessed by evil spirits or touched by the gods and should be treated by invoking mystical powers.

Julius Caesar, another brilliant general and formidable politician, had seizures in the last two years of his life, possibly caused by a brain tumour. Caesar was known to have fallen convulsing into the River Tiber. By this time, epilepsy had become known as "the falling sickness" because the kind of seizures that made a person lose consciousness and fall down were the only kind then recognized as epilepsy. (Complex partial seizures were not added until the middle of the nineteenth century.) Human blood was widely regarded by the Romans as having curative powers, and people with epilepsy in Caesar's time were commonly seen sucking blood from fallen gladiators.

Napoleon Bonaparte was probably the most brilliant military figure in history. He too is known to have had epilepsy.

Another extraordinary leader of a very different time and place was Harriet Tubman, the black woman with epilepsy who led hundreds of her fellow slaves from the American South to freedom in Canada on the Underground Railroad. Tubman developed her seizure disorder through sustaining a head injury: her slave master hit her in the head with a rock.

"Some of the most famous people in history had seizures. People with epilepsy have excelled in every area."

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